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Wednesday January 20, 2016 in Books
Mend the Living is the story of a heart transplant, centred around Simon Limbeau, the boy whose heart is given, and his family.
Taking place within exactly twenty-four hours, the novel traces the thrill of an early-morning winter surf session, the terrible accident that follows, and all the urgency and compassion of the hospital workers, and shock and grief of Simon’s family as they negotiate the question of organ donation. Maylis de Kerangal offers glimpses into the thoughts and affective lives of each of the characters: Simon, at the core of the novel; Marianne and Sean, his parents, who have been estranged for some months; Revol, the chief surgeon, music enthusiast, and studier of hallucinogenic plants; Cordelia Owl, the capable new nurse who is reeling from a night spent with her former lover; Thomas Rémige, the hospital coordinator, an opera singer, and aficionado of goldfinches; Virgilio, the silvertongued, light-fingered surgeon; Juliette, Simon’s girlfriend, who is building a labyrinth inside a Plexiglass case, waiting for Simon’s call.
The novel also touches upon Claire, the recipient of the heart, whose life has been limited by her condition, who reflects philosophically on what it means to have someone else’s heart beating inside you.
Weaving from hospital corridors to the wild waves of the Atlantic, from the narrow streets of Paris to the countryside in Algeria where goldfinches still sing, from the most intimate details of grief within a car in Le Havre to universal considerations of science, compassion, and humanity, Mend the Living is a powerful and vast-ranging book. In her trademark masterful use of language, playing with pacing and tension and a vibrant vocabulary, Maylis de Kerangal gives us a metaphysical adventure that is at once both collective and intimate.
Read an excerpt from Mend the Living on our blog, Meta-Talon.
ISBN 13: 9780889229730 | ISBN 10: 0889229730
5 W x 8.5 H inches | 224 pages
$19.95 CAN / $19.95 US
Backlist | Fiction | Bisac: FIC019000
QUOTES OF NOTE
“Mend the Living is a brave book, a highly original and ambitious novel which traces the medical drama and emotional turmoil of a heart transplant in daring, lyrical prose. Concentrated across the span of a single day, Maylis de Kerangal succeeds in telling a gripping, cinematic story while revealing the intricate care, the tensions and the heartbreak of life-saving medical science.”
“De Kerangal’s books delight in a lexical mix. Sometimes in her fiction, as in her conversation, de Kerangal vacillates between French and English. … So too, her linguistic register shifts without pause. … De Kerangal has proven that serious themes don’t have to be dealt with in the grave, straightforward manner … rather, she shows that a novel comes alive when it is unconstrained by a single tone or linguistic register. Perhaps de Kerangal’s most meaningful achievement has been to chip away at what it means to be a fiction writer in France, a concept she has struggled with since her adolescence. She has escaped the prescriptive definition of ‘writer’ as narrow and elitist, and in doing so, has created novels that connect with a wider audience.”
– The Millions
“The narrative is expertly paced … De Kerangal writes in long sentences that heap clause upon clause, descriptive phrases that would seem to be at odds with the efficient, streamlined language of the processes they describe. And yet, by creating the sense of narrating events almost in real time, these long, rhythmic sentences convey something important about the passage of time on a day in which every moment, every detail, is critical. … These seemingly endless sentences occasionally almost teeter over into the melodramatic, but the novel is never mawkish. Jessica Moore’s translation work here is exceptional. French tends to be more forgiving of the endless sentence, the series of clauses, but de Kerangal’s page-long phrases are rendered deftly and gracefully in Moore’s English translation. … Moore’s translation is sensitive and precise.”
– Montreal Review of Books
“The human heart, our most elemental necessity, is the novel’s focus, both literally and metaphorically, and the story we enter is told with great heart, and great hopefulness. Written in the grand narrative tradition, the novel reads like a Greek tragedy, like a long, sumptuous passage from Homer. It’s concerns are that broad, and that timeless. There is even a Delphic chorus in the form of cheering soccer fans who are both oblivious to the events occurring in the novel and, yet, strangely, provide an accompanying song of life-giving exuberance. … The novel is beautifully paced, every now and then catching its breath with brief, lighter asides and these asides are welcome because, by now, we, the readers, who have become so immersed in the story, are breathless with grief and hope ourselves.”
– Vancouver Sun
“From its glorious 300-word first sentence to the stately canopic imagery of its climactic scenes, Mend the Living, beautifully translated from the French by Jessica Moore, mimics the rhythm of the processes it depicts – the troughs and peaks of grief and protocol, of skills utilised and acceptance finally achieved.”
– The Guardian
“An unusual and often-ravishing novel … Ms. de Kerangal’s long, rolling sentences pulse along in systolic thumps, each beat punctuated by a comma; they’re packed with emotional intensity and florid imagery … The entire hospital in this book pounds with life.
– New York Times Books
“Moving … because of – not despite – its scientific context … The vocabulary fits each character’s stream of consciousness, challenging the reader to follow the author’s copious research into professional jargons, and teenage slang. … a novel that goes to the heart of what it means to be a human being.”
– The Independent
“The story unfolds in an intricate lacework of precise detail. … These characters feel less like fictional creations and more like ordinary people, briefly illuminated in rich language … This novel is an exploration not only of death but of life, of humanity and fragility, ‘because the heart is more than the heart.’”
– New York Times blog
“Maylis de Kerangal navigates perfectly between the epic and the intimate; let’s just say that her writing will shake you to your very core.”
“De Kerangal’s novel pulses with life. … It’s clear de Kerangal has done extensive research, and the novel contains a wealth of medical knowledge. But her prose is more than just technical; the writing is uncommonly beautiful and never lacking humanity. This poetic interrogation of our contemporary medical reality affords a view only literature can provide.”
– Publishers Weekly
“… winning and effective … A sophisticated medical drama whose pulse-pounding strength diminishes a touch too quickly.”
– Kirkus Reviews
“Heartbreaking; I’ve seldom read a more moving book … De Kerangal is a master of momentum, to the extent that when the book ends, the reader feels bereft. She shows that narratives around illness and pain can energize the nobler angels of our nature and make for profoundly lovely art. One longs for more …”
– The Guardian
“Ably translated by Jessica Moore … long sentences wind across the page, taking in philosophical digressions … De Kerangal’s intellectual flights are balanced out by detailed descriptions of the donation process itself: the various diagnoses, the necessary conversations with the donor’s grieving family, the hasty delivery of the organs in their chilled containers. Throughout, the author handles this difficult subject with enormous subtlety and tact.”
– The Independent
“Flamboyant writing combined with a tragic subject make the author’s fifth novel a searing, unforgettable read … [a] gut-wrenching saga … De Kerangal explores the contradiction of death enabling life. … [an] extraordinary novel that etches itself in the mind …”
– Irish Times
“This breathless novel has all the beauty of a Greek tragedy. It is also a hymn to creation and a meditation on the relationship between the body and consciousness, life and death”
“Among the most fascinating writers of her generation. With Mend the Living, Maylis de Kerangal attains even greater heights”
– Le Monde
“Reading Mend the Living is like stepping into a great ocean of words, all cross-currents and waves, and you just have to dive in and let it take you where it will … De Kerangal turns her novels into multi-dimensional, emotional schematics of the situation they’re examining. Events unfold and a fuzzy cloud of words hovers around them ready to illuminate the imperceptible. … Mend the Living covers a short period of time in the lives of only a few people but it reveals whole realms of experience and meaning within that scope. Reading it is a vertiginous experience that you will not soon forget.”
– European Literature Network
“A work so moving, so richly layered it strikes you less like an object and more like something divine – like the heart itself. … But it’s not just the unusual format that makes this novel so remarkable: it’s the spot-on rhythm of de Kerangal’s sentences. … It’s not an exaggeration to say de Kerangal has written a masterpiece, a stunning feat on par with modern medicine, the love of a parent, a second chance at life.”
“Mend the Living is the story of a transgression where the heart, liver, lungs, and other organs move beyond their role as sedentary and mortal tools of human mechanics. Here they become travellers on a long journey, and their migration from one body to another brings breath and life.”
– Hélène Vachon, author of A Matter of Gravity
“Jessica Moore’s deft, exacting, and nuanced translation brilliantly writes de Kerangal’s magnificent prose into a new English. A deeply compelling and moving read.”
– Oana Avasilichioaei, author of Limbinal
Man Booker International Prize, 2016 (Longlisted)
Wellcome Book Prize, 2017 (Shortlisted)
About the ContributorsMaylis de Kerangal
Maylis de Kerangal is the author of several novels in French: Je marche sous un ciel de traîne (2000), La vie voyageuse (2003), Corniche Kennedy (2008), and Naissance d’un pont (translated here as Birth of a Bridge, winner of the Franz Hessel Prize and the Médicis Prize in 2010).Jessica Moore
Jessica Moore is an author and a translator. She is a former Lannan writer-in-residence, a Banff International Literary Translation Centre fellow, and she is VP for Ontario for the Literary Translators’ Association of Canada.
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts; the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF); and the Province of British Columbia through the British Columbia Arts Council for our publishing activities.